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Earl Middleton, M.Div.Mark 10:35-45 (NIV)
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
[36] “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
[37] They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
[38] “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
[39] “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, [40] but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
[41] When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. [42] Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. [43] Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, [44] and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. [45] For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

When most of us think about getting to our wealthy place or our next level in the Lord what we’re really thinking about is living the kind of life where we can be served. This world equates a life of service with limitations and burdens and rigor. Servants live a hard life, while the easy life, the life of privilege and luxury, is the domain of the served. Well, if things work the way the bible describes them, when we get to our wealthy place or our next level, most of us will be disappointed; because Jesus says rulers and high officials in the Kingdom of God don’t get served. They do the serving! Ouch!

Vs 35 – Give us whatever we ask for, whatever we want! What a bold prayer! We should expect nothing less from the sons of Zebedee, the Boanerges, the sons of Thunder. They weren’t soft, or halting, or scared to take on life. They were go getters, aggressive livers, assertive men. I just love their temerity, their gumption! Give me whatever I ask for, whatever I want, Jesus! That’s the kind of attitude we should all have in prayer; but few do. It’s also the kind of attitude that gets God’s attention. And approval. You’d think, if you were to look at this through the lens of America’s cultural and traditional religious understanding, that Jesus would challenge that kind of aggressive prayer attitude. That he would lecture them on the need for restraint in their requests. That he would encourage them to narrow their expectations, kinda bring their petitions into line with their status in the kingdom of God. “You guys are unlearned, unheard of, lower level servant types in the Kingdom of God, you can’t expect to ask for anything you want and have God grant that. Who do you think you are? Be more modest, more humble. Ask for your household today, your block tomorrow, and don’t even think about asking for the world until next decade at the earliest. Take it slow, gradual, in stages. If you ask for too much you’ll probably get nothing.” But no! That’s not how Jesus responded at all. I just love his response in the next verse.

Vs 36 – Jesus wasn’t blown away by their gumption, he respected it! He didn’t lecture them about size of their request, he just wanted to know, matter-of-factly, what they wanted. And that, my friend, is how God will respond to you and me if and when we approach him with what others might think is a ridiculously outsized request. A request so huge that it would seem obscene to ever think about asking God for something like that. Reading this verse and seeing Jesus’ response just increases my gumption, and it should increase yours, too! Why not ask big, why not dream big, why not expect big, why not go big, why not live large!? In truth, God expects it! That’s what he put us here to do.

Vs 37 – They ask for position. Top positions. High rank. The highest rank possible. Now, don’t get it twisted. This is not about loving Jesus so much they just want to spend time in his presence. Their request is not Jesus centered. They don’t want to sit on his right and left hand so they can look at him. They want those seats so they can share his rule. They want to run things, and they want to do so on Jesus’ coattails. They want authority and power. They want to be great. Again, I love Jesus’ response.

Vs 38 – Jesus tells them they are asking amiss (you really don’t know what you’re asking, because you really don’t know how things work in the Kingdom; every answer to prayer comes at a cost, and the cost for this request is much greater than you realize, or are able to pay). They want to share in Jesus’ power, but don’t realize that the pathway to that kind of power is suffering. Jesus asks them, are you able to suffer the way I’m going to suffer to qualify for the power that will be bestowed on me? Can you handle the weight of my crown? God wants us to ask big, but He also expects us to invest big to be able to handle the answer. You want a great ministry, but can you handle the great persecution and self-denial that comes with it? You want great wealth, but can you handle the great responsibility and great hatred from others that comes with it? You want great fame, but can you handle the loss of personal freedom that comes with it? You want great love, but can you handle the great sacrifice that it requires?

Vs 39 – Of course we can. We all think we can. We all want to believe that we can. And by declaring that we can, we assure ourselves the opportunity to find out. Whenever we pray big, the answer to the prayer sends a collector ahead of itself to begin exacting the cost of the answer. Persecution comes, trials come, losses come, sacrificial demands present themselves. Ahead of the answer. That’s when we find out if we really can pay the price.

Vs 40 – And that’s also when we learn the limitations built into the answers of every prayer: God’s plan and will. James and John asked to sit on Jesus’ left and right hand in his glory, not realizing that only one of those spots will be available. Because Jesus will himself be at the right hand of the Father, his left hand is already occupied–by God! That leaves only his right hand. And that spot is reserved for the person it has been ordained and prepared for. This tells us that our answers to prayer have our names on them, are prepared for and reserved for us, and no one else can occupy or handle what was prepared exclusively for us by God. Pray big, and if it’s God’s will for you, you will have it!

Vs 41 – Of course, understand that big prayers will stoke the ire and wrath of other believers, who will be put off by your boldness, shamed by your courage, and mad that you might get what they’ve always wanted, but didn’t have the gumption to ask for, nor the spiritual strength to suffer for.

Vs 42 – In this world’s system power runs from the top down, from strength to weakness.

Vss 43, 44 – In the Kingdom of God, power runs from the bottom up, from weakness to strength.

Vs 45 – Jesus showed us how it’s done. You want to be great, give your life away. You want to be served, be satisfied with the lowest place in the Kingdom; because in the Kingdom the served are always last. You want to be first in the Kingdom, become a servant; because in the Kingdom servants always go first.

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